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This week it’s been brought to my attention that it is Banned Books Week (Sept 27-Oct 3), a glorious week for those of us who love the written word and cannot possibly understand why anyone would want to BAN others from reading a book.
Truly, it boggles the mind.
I have written previously about banning books and this week I wanted to write a blog post about what Banned Books mean to me, because I’ve read some of them (often without realizing that they are even banned) and there are many, many others that I wish to read as soon as I have the time (ha-ha!) but more than anything else, I wanted to share this information with others so that they too can check out these books that cause such a kerfuffle among parents and other administrators. Why the fuss? What’s the big deal? Why don’t we want our kids to learn about all aspects of life? Even the messy bits are important in shaping their minds into … Well, bigger, better minds. If we shield them from everything, how the heck will they learn?
First off, here is a good list from the Banned & Challenged Books website that lists some of the top 10 most challenged books. Tell me, how many of these have YOU read?
1) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
2) Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
3) And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”
4) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”
5) It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”
6) Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:
7) The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence
8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”
9) A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
10) Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit
~From the Banned & Challenged Books
I have to say that I have only read two of those books, The Kite Runner and The Bluest Eye, both were excellent books and both were chock-full of challenging (i.e. difficult) material. More importantly, both were chock-full of amazing writing, vibrant ideas and brilliant thematic elements. Both were well worth my time and the time of many others.
When I then look at a list of some of the most challenged literary classics, there are many more I’ve read because I was lucky to have decent teachers who wanted us to actually read the classics and no one stopped them. There was an appreciation for the literature. Others, I have read since school and have enjoyed immensely.
1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
10. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
11. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
12. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
14. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
~See the full list here!
Oh man, some of these are favorites of mine, Animal Farm is one of the best books I’ve ever read and that one, along with 1984, are both extremely topical in today’s bizarro and often frightening political landscape. Along with that you have Beloved which is a horribly tragic, yet utterly compelling read and The Color Purple which blew my mind the first time I read it. I could go on and on but if you’re any kind of reader, you get the idea.
To put this into simplistic terms, banning books is wrong. Who gave anyone the right to decide what’s “appropriate” reading material for others? Who gave that power to one person (or persons)?
We all have minds (supposedly) and should be allowed to choose for ourselves what we want to read and absorb. Not to mention, parents who fight to ban books in the name of their (or other kids) so-called innocence are fighting the wrong battle. Pay better attention to what your kids are ingesting or who they’re hanging out with, not what they’re reading. Just be glad they’re READING and not looking at a computer screen. Yeesh.
In my searching for material for this blog, I came across a beautifully written post where a teacher had to defend their right to teach Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, a story I read many years ago and really need to revisit again. It is a brutal tale about a dystopian world where women are basically “incubators on legs” – it does not paint a pretty picture but it’s also so well-written and thought out that to not read it seems a disgrace in many ways. Regardless, this teacher sums up quite beautifully why reading such book is actually important in schools and why it is a valid choice to teach children critical thinking.
I’ll only include the last line from it here but if you wish to read the entire post, click here.
I would add only that one of the functions of literature is to shed light into the corners of our world, even if what we find there is unpleasant.
I couldn’t say it better myself. Without literature, we would not have the light that illuminates our thoughts, our ideas, our very own creativity and critical thinking abilities. While some literature is better than others, it is all valuable in that it offers a passage into other worlds, some good, some bad, but almost all are worthwhile and all should be able to be accessed by anyone who wants to enter that world.
Finally, I came across this other article on Book Riot about how, according to Slate, Banned Books week isn’t really necessary anymore because books are widely available online or at other libraries or stores you can easily drive to. The author, who is rebutting Slate’s idea, makes a good point about what libraries are there for;
When books are challenged, even when the result is not a full ban!, nobody wins.
Consider that libraries aren’t there to shrug and suggest Amazon when you’re looking for a book. They’re there to provide the books, not only to those who can’t afford to purchase all of their reading material, or are unable to drive to the next nearest library, but to anybody with an interest.
Libraries are a marketplace of ideas, and if they’re going to operate in a truly democratic fashion, all ideas should be represented. ~Michelle Anne Schingler
The point is, just because we can order everything on Amazon, it does not mean that everyone else can too. It doesn’t mean that challenging or banning books is ever going to be okay simply because you can then go online and buy it. There are many who cannot do that. Who will never know the sadness of reading The Diary of Anne Frank or the mind boggling medical mess that is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. There are many who will not get to read some of these banned books because they are banned and they’ll never cross those people’s radars. Banning books is wrong, it is futile and it is a problem that has persisted for hundreds of years. This is why Banned Books Week is important, because it reminds us all of the power of the written word and it brings to light all those books that maybe someone hasn’t gotten a chance to read but now will see and read and it will change their life view just a little bit more.
Make sure to pick up a banned book this week and every week!
What do you think about banned books? Have you read any that you love? Do you agree with the parents that try to ban books? Sound off in the comments section below. I want to hear your thoughts!